Overview

Photo of a small tick on a cotton swab

Ticks are small spider-like animals (arachnids) that bite to fasten themselves onto the skin and feed on blood.

Ticks are most active during the spring, summer and fall seasons and can be active when the temperatures are above 4 degrees Celsius.

In addition to ticks that live in Alberta year-round, migrating birds bring ticks from warmer areas into Alberta during the spring.

Alberta is home to many species of ticks. Most tick species in Alberta do not carry Borrelia (B.) burgdorferi, the bacteria that can cause Lyme disease in people. However, there is evidence that tick species capable of carrying the bacteria are expanding their range in Canada.

Visit Health Canada for more information on risk areas for Lyme disease in Canada.

Protect yourself from ticks

While most ticks do not cause serious health problems, it is important to protect yourself, your family and even your pets from tick bites. Removing a tick within 24 hours of a tick bite can greatly reduce your chance of getting Lyme disease or other tick-borne diseases.

Learn how to avoid and remove ticks

When to seek medical attention

If you have been bitten by a tick and are worried about your health contact Health Link  at 811. They can refer you to a resource that is appropriate to your situation.

Consult your health care provider right away if you develop symptoms following a tick bite.

If you have a rash, fever or flu-like symptoms within 30 days of a known tick exposure, talk to your health-care provider about when and where you may have been exposed to a tick.

Your health-care provider does not need the tick in order to make a diagnosis. However, if the tick is available, your health care provider may submit it for testing.

Tick-borne diseases

Lyme disease

The risk of getting Lyme disease from a tick bite in Alberta is considered very low. Between 1991 and 2021, there were 149 human cases of Lyme disease reported to the Ministry of Health. All cases reported were acquired while travelling outside of the province, in areas where ticks that carry the Lyme disease are known to circulate.

Lyme disease can affect humans, wildlife and domestic animals. It can cause an infection and, if left untreated, can cause serious, long-term complications and disability.

People may develop symptoms between 3 to 30 days after a tick bite. Symptoms of early Lyme disease infection include:

  • a round, red rash that spreads at the site of a tick bite, known as a 'bull’s eye rash'
  • flu-like symptoms: tiredness, headaches, sore muscles and joints and fever

Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics. Treatment in the early stage of the disease increases the chance of successful recovery.

Lyme disease diagnosis and laboratory testing

Lyme disease is diagnosed based on the presence of symptoms, physical examination, possible exposure to infected ticks and, if necessary, laboratory testing. If your health care provider suspects Lyme disease, you may be asked to provide a blood sample for testing.

The 2-step testing approach used in Alberta is endorsed by public health and laboratory experts from Canada, the United States, and other countries as the best laboratory method to support diagnosis of Lyme disease. These high standards help protect individuals from misleading false-positive (inaccurate) results and unnecessary treatments.

Learn more about Lyme disease

Other tick-borne diseases

Other ticks in Alberta can carry organisms that may cause diseases in humans such as:

  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever (transmitted by Dermacentor andersoni and D. variabilis)
  • Powassan virus (transmitted by Ixodes cookie and I. scapularis)
  • tularemia (transmitted by D. variabilis)

The number of cases of these diseases reported to the Ministry of Health each year varies from zero to 3 cases and are mainly acquired locally.

Like Lyme disease, there is a low risk that other tick-borne diseases, such as anaplasmosis, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis or southern tick-associated rash-illness (STARI), may occur in Alberta.

Submit-a-Tick program

Photo of Submit-a-tick program

If you find a tick on a person, a pet or anywhere outside, consider submitting a photograph of it to the Alberta Submit-a-Tick program via the eTick program.

Program purpose

The Submit-a-Tick program monitors the types and distribution of ticks in Alberta, and assesses the risk of acquiring the tick borne Lyme disease within Alberta.

  • This program does not test for Lyme disease or other tick-related illnesses in humans or pets.
  • If you are concerned about a tick bite on you, you should consult your health care provider.
  • If you are concerned about a tick bite to your pet, you should consult your veterinarian.

Submit a tick photo for identification

The Submit-A-Tick program accepts ticks found on people, animals and in the environment.

All tick submissions must first be screened through eTick by submitting a photograph of the tick using the eTick app or through eTick.ca. You can download the application from your app store or from eTick which has the details and image requirements.

  • After submitting your photograph, keep your tick for at least 10 days in case additional photographs are needed to complete the identification. Save the tick in a clean, empty, and secure container. Do not add any ventilation holes to the container. Ticks can be stored in the refrigerator or freezer.
  • Photographs submitted will be used to identify the tick species and you will get the results, typically within 2 business days.
    • If the tick is identified as a type that can transmit the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, or cannot be identified by photo, you will be asked to submit the tick for additional testing to the Alberta Public Health Laboratory.
    • If the tick is not identified as a type that can transmit the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, it can be discarded.

Note: Alberta Health Services Environmental Public Health and Indigenous Services Canada First Nations and Inuit Health Branch offices do not accept tick submissions.

Laboratory testing of ticks

If you are asked by eTick to submit your tick to the Alberta Precision Laboratory, complete and print the Alberta Precision Laboratories (APL) Tick Testing Request form that must accompany your tick to the lab (see below for details). By submitting the tick when requested, you are helping Alberta Health to monitor for ticks of public health concern in Alberta.

Shipping instructions, including drop off locations and mailing address, are included on the request form.

Steps to submit a tick for testing

  1. Place the tick in a small hard plastic container with a tight-fitting lid such as clean empty pill bottle.
    • Do not use glass containers or straws.
  2. Label the container with the eTick identification (ID) number provided in your eTick notification (for example, ETXXXX).
  3. Place the container in a clean plastic bag and close securely (for example, Ziploc bag).
  4. Complete the APL Tick Testing Request form.
  5. Add the sealed plastic bag (with tick) and completed APL Tick Testing Request form to an envelope or box suitable for mailing.
  6. Mail to:
    Specimen Receiving
    Public Health Lab (ProvLab) North
    University of Alberta Hospital
    WMC 2B4.04, 8440-112 Street
    Edmonton, AB T6G 2J2
  7. For in-person drop off, follow steps 1 to 4. Bring the tick, together with the completed APL Tick Testing Request form, to a participating lab location.

Note: Acute care and hospital labs do NOT accept tick submissions

Important

A completed Tick Testing Request form must accompany ticks that are either mailed-in or dropped off, and each tick container must be labelled with the eTick ID number, otherwise the lab will not be able to provide results.

If you have more than one tick to submit to the lab, be sure to include only one tick specimen in each secure container. Each tick will need its own submission form and unique eTick ID number. Be sure to label each container and submission form with the corresponding eTick ID number.

The lab will provide results to you by mail within 2 to 3 weeks. Ensure that your complete mailing address is included on your submission form if you wish to receive the results.

What the results mean

  1. These results are not meant to diagnose or treat tick-borne illnesses in people or pets.
  2. eTick Photo identification – identifies tick species.
  3. Laboratory testing – confirms tick species and, if applicable, the results of testing for the Lyme bacteria, B. burgdorferi.
  4. The results can be shared with your health care provider if you are concerned about a bite from the tick.

Tick surveillance results

Information on tick surveillance results

Tick surveillance summary reports

Tick surveillance data – interactive

2021 summary

  • The risk of acquiring Lyme disease from a tick in Alberta remains low.
  • The Alberta Tick Surveillance Submit-a-Tick program transitioned to eTick in April 2021 and to Alberta Precision Laboratory (APL) in July 2021.
  • The transition to these new initiatives introduced some data limitations and comparisons to previous years must be interpreted with caution.
    • Ixodes ticks identified through eTick beginning in April 2021 could not be submitted for B. burgdorferi testing at APL until July 2021, so the data is incomplete.
    • Submission of ticks to APL is voluntary so the number and proportion of ticks are not a measure of prevalence in Alberta.

Analysis

626 out of 631 ticks identified through the eTick surveillance program were reported to be locally acquired. Of those, 79 were identified as Ixodes ticks capable of transmitting B. burgdorferi and 41 were submitted for further laboratory testing and 10 were positive.

  • These Ixodes ticks positive for B. burgdorferi were identified in the Calgary, Edmonton, central, and north zones, and none in the south zone.

What the data means for people in Alberta

Since the beginning of the Submit-a-tick program in 2013 and until 2019, there was  a steady increase in the number of ticks submitted by people in Alberta. However, numbers decreased sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic and the transition to eTick. Consequently, the proportion of positive ticks was higher in 2021 but the overall trend in numbers remains low. Because eTick and APL are new programs in Alberta, multiple years’ worth of data will be required to monitor for changing trends.

The risk of Lyme disease substantially increases when a local population of ticks capable of causing the disease becomes established. There is no evidence that ticks capable of carrying the Lyme disease bacteria have formed established populations in Alberta.

Resources

Submit-a-Tick program fact sheet

Submit-a-Tick poster